Hospital in pursuit of perfection

With typical survey response
rates ranging from 40 to just over 50 per cent, Southend Hospital must have
been doing something right to get 80 per cent returns for its survey of 3,300

Communications manager Ros
Mortis reckons it was simply down to "thorough preparation, organisation
and implementation based on sound principles".

The object of the exercise was
to get a clear picture of how staff felt about working at Southend Hospital,
what they needed in order to do their jobs more effectively, and where the
organisation’s strengths and weaknesses lay.

In helping them to put together
the project, consultant Richard Barnes suggested the following simple

1.      Specify
the objectives

2.      Limit
the number of questions to between 20 and 30, in order to maintain respondents’

3.      Choose
the most effective presentation of questions

4.      Publicise
the survey in advance

5.      Give
staff time during the working day to complete it

6.      Monitor
the return of forms

A working group of staff
representatives compiled 26 questions, worded as unambiguously as possible,
with responses rated on a scale of positive to negative.

In order to ensure
confidentiality, locked ballot boxes were borrowed from Southend Council. No
names were asked for on the forms, and representatives of the working committee
were asked to reassure staff, in person and whenever possible, of the security
of the procedure.

During the three-week survey, the
hospital was split into three sections of 20 to 30 departments each – week one
was for staff on all wards, week two for other directorates, such as A&E
and surgical, week three for non-clinical staff.

The exact number of staff in
each department was recorded, and representatives from each department were
made responsible for returns.

On the first day of each survey
week, representatives were briefed face to face in a meeting and handed the
ballot boxes. When the boxes were returned, the forms were counted and if there
was a significant shortfall, the situation was investigated and resolved, if

Feedback to all staff was
provided on the response rate within two weeks of the survey’s completion, and
information from the analysis within eight weeks.

Fortunately for the hospital,
most responses ranged from positive to very positive. Chairman John Bruce says,
"There’s no such thing as perfection in any kind of organisation, but at
least there’s the pursuit of it. The analysis identified action areas and our
goal is to provide the improvements that the survey has shown to be needed or

Where action was required,
working groups were set up and proposals then referred to the relevant
departments. Instant solutions, where possible (such as with equipment or
repairs) were implemented. Other areas are harder to resolve. Consultants, for
example, found it hard to get time off for training and development. "Of
course we didn’t need a survey to tell us that, but it has helped to focus the
search for solutions," Ros Mortis.

"It is a continual
process. Our next survey may provide an indication of how well we are meeting
the challenges posed by our first survey. There is no doubt that it is an
invaluable tool in the quest for improving services and creating a more
motivated, committed staff."

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